Spiders are notorious for their bizarre and often violent mating practices. New research shows that, in order to avoid getting eaten during sex, male nursery spiders will tie up their partners with silken threads. And yes, it’s as horrible as it sounds.

The males of at least 30 spider species have been observed to wrap the legs of their partners in anticipation of sex. And they do this not out of some twisted perverted urge but out of sheer necessity. Female spiders tend to be bigger and more aggressive than their male counterparts, and they often cannibalize the males before they have a chance to mate. By engaging in this arachnid form of bondage, the male spider can not only mate with a partner—he can also escape to live another day.

Check out this amazing video via National Geographic.

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A new study from the University of Nebraska shows that male nursery spiders also engage in this odd sexual behavior. These spiders are only one of two in the world who can spin these so-called “bridal veils” in midair. Also, the males have longer legs than the females, which they use to their advantage. After a female is tied up, the male mounts her. When it’s all done, he releases the female who breaks free of her ties. For the males, it’s often a narrow escape.

To test the effectiveness of the bondage, researcher Alissa Anderson brought some nursery spiders to her lab. Half of the males had their spinnerets blocked, while the other half were left alone. Those who could not spin spider silk had a much greater chance of being consumed. And not surprisingly, those who were able to spin their web had a much better chance of mating with their partner—sometimes multiple times during the same mating session. The bondage ritual likely serves two purposes: an enhanced opportunity for mating, and an opportunity for escape.

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[The Royal Society Biology Letters via National Geographic]

Email the author at george@gizmodo.com and follow him @dvorsky.